The Right Fit – How a brand should work with an ambassador and the other way around

by Common Thread Collective Collaborator

Mar. 07 2016

The relationship between a brand and an ambassador is just that–a relationship. And though I came from a large family, I have had dozens of friends over the years and have had hundreds of teammates across more than nine teams; but the best relationships always stick out to me. The most glaring among these include the relationships I have with my high school girlfriend turned wife, my middle school friends turned business partners, and my brother that I do business with. My point is, truly great relationships are hard to find and even tougher to maintain. But in a business sense, they can absolutely be manufactured.

In today’s world, we see “manufactured” relationships constantly. If a beautiful woman is with a much older, much less attractive man with loads of money; we call her a “gold digger.” If we see a student in class being overly nice to the teacher and asking a million questions that he already knows the answer to, we call him a “kiss-up.” If we see a salesperson going out of his way to find common ground with a buyer, we call him a “salesman.” At its core, these are examples of people manufacturing relationships. The negative connotation only gains visibility if one side of the relationship is only seeking to prosper (the gold digger, the kiss-up, and the salesman) at the other’s expense.

On the other side of the spectrum are relationships that are inherent. There are plenty of relationships we have that we don’t choose–regardless of their health. I didn’t choose my family members and I rarely had input on who my coaches or teammates were as a player.

There is no manufacturing here, only development or dismissal.

However, there is one place, when done correctly, manufactured relationships not only work, they thrive: The Brand/Ambassador Relationship. And though this age-old courtship is attempted daily, it is consistently done poorly; so rather than being mutually beneficial, they become toxic, causing more problems than they solve.


Let’s look at what we know about each side so we can understand the perfect ingredients we need to create a recipe for success.

The Brand’s Goal:

When approached by consumers or influencers in their space, a brand wants ambassadors who literally don’t know where to start on all the amazing things they have to say about the brand they represent.


But think about that for a second and ask yourself the following questions:

    • How do I engage with ambassadors for my brand in a way that makes their answers synonymous with mine?


  • And even if they say the same thing, how do I partner with influencers that explain my brand with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm?

Let’s be honest, video content is important, social media can be impactful, and TV commercials (though almost extinct) can be effective. But I am boldly saying that if that is the extent of the relationship between a brand and a paid ambassador, then both sides have failed. I see it like this…



<> Ambassador’s role in that community
<> Ambassador’s daily routine
<> Ambassador’s personal mission
<> Ambassador’s purpose
<> Ambassador’s needs
>< Ambassador partnership


    1. The brand’s community has to align with the ambassador’s role in that community. It’s not always about size of the social following; but it is always about the ambassador playing the correct role in the community that the brand is trying to engage and speak to.


    1. The brand’s products have to align with the ambassador’s daily routine. This is a common mistake as Colin Kaepernick doesn’t eat McDonalds to stay in shape and the majority of the best pro athletes in the world wouldn’t touch Gatorade or Pepsi, yet giant brands like those shell out cash on the reg to make it appear that way.


    1. The brand’s internal company goals must align with the ambassador’s mission. If Adidas’ campaign is to make the fastest football cleat on the market, than the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine is a perfect activation.


    1. The brand’s purpose in the marketplace should always align with the ambassador’s purpose. Uniting those two sides is so vital to this relationship that at CTC put it in our Mission Statement. Products change. Campaigns change. But purpose doesn’t.


    1. The benefits received by the brand for the relationship with the ambassador should mirror the benefits received by the ambassador for their involvement with the brand. Needs should be met mutually. Basically, it should be a fair deal. Though I’m a former pro athlete, I don’t think a brand should ever give away equity to a celebrity just for the use of their name. That’s lopsided to me. The more the interests can be aligned, then the more chest-bumping the two sides can do and the less lawyers and agents need to get involved.


  1. There should be a connection between the brand and the ambassador. It should not be a casual email connection, a once-a-year appearance, or through an interpreter (agent). It should be a real human relationship between some decision-maker at the brand and the ambassador himself/herself–like a team. If neither side can carve out time for that, then one side doesn’t feel incentivized to make it a great partnership.

How to actually do it…
In brand/ambassador relationships, there’s a time when a company needs investors and marketing services to make a meaningful splash. I called this time, “the Sweet Spot.”
The Sweet Spot is the ideal partnership for both sides in that the ambassador invests in the company and is granted additional warrants (equity) in exchange for marketing services. This forms a true partnership and gives the celebrity additional equity needed to justify their marketing contribution and use of likeness. From the brand’s perspective, they should get more activation from the ambassador than the typically negotiated production day, appearances, social posts, etc.
IMPORTANT: This only makes sense if the company passes the following threshold:

    1. The company is investable (a lot goes into determining this, but oftentimes, ambassadors will have a team of people to help them understand this piece of the puzzle).


    1. The company has a strong team in place to take the business to the next level.


    1. The company has an exit in mind where the ambassador can see a return on their investment.


  1. The company can tangibly sell more of their product through involvement with that ambassador.

This is not always possible as some companies are too big or too small to invest and most often, the timing just isn’t right. But it’s not the only way. I do believe that partnerships can be made in more traditional fashions. When this is the case, they should be made more personal.
I like to learn a lot about the ambassador when I’m approaching him or her with a deal. I like to see who they are as a person and what they care most about. Oftentimes, that’s a charity that is near and dear to their hearts, a program that they pour their efforts into or a business that they would like to personally grow themselves. When managing ambassador relationships, I feel like I’m constantly trying to figure out a way to help the ambassador in any initiative they have because that can oftentimes be more valuable than money. The majority of the ambassadors I work with have something else they are super into besides the thing that they’re getting paid to do. The more I can help with that, the better the partnership becomes. The better the partnership becomes, the more real the relationship is.

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